To attempt to write about such a broad topic is probably pointless but given the events in Colorado it seems impossible not to offer a few observations. There will likely be no new insights but we should think about why mass violence gets such press and compassion is seen only as the property of the few. According to news reports great bravery was shown by many in trying to protect others, surely acts of love in the face of terror.
The Virginia Tech murders, the Fort Hood shootings, and now, the Aurora killings are the easiest to explain: The perpetrators were all drastically deranged. There is no protection against insanity. There are warning signs that, though subtle, cannot be ignored but once the demons seize control we are all stunned. A handful of families will have their lives changed forever but for the vast majority we will soon move on with our lives.
I spent this past weekend in a major northeastern city where shootings are an almost daily occurrence. This type of violence does not have its roots in psychosis but in hostility that is often fed by drugs. Just last week innocent victims were gunned down at a soccer game when they happened to be caught in the line of fire of a drug deal. I intensely dislike the phrase so often seen, “. . . a drug deal gone bad,” as if there were ever a good drug deal. In the soccer field shootings the community was horrified that a public park was turned into a killing field of children. Will that outrage change anything?
Where do we learn to be such violent people? Turn on any TV crime show and see how long it is before the gunfire erupts. I have heard estimates that by the time a child reaches the age of 18 they will have seen thousands of killings on television. Is it possible that such continued exposure desensitizes our brains to violence? A recent issue of Newsweek cites studies that show constant use of electronic technology, including video games, does re-wire cerebral circuitry in the areas where addictive behavior resides.
This is not a rant about gun control or the drug problem, about poverty or poor educational opportunity. What is it that motivates one person to be compassionate and gentle, one that can handle anger in an appropriate way while another will reach for an assault rifle? The answers are certainly multifactorial and complex.
I received a blog today that addresses some of these questions. It is from Steve Garnass-Holmes, a Methodist minister in the greater Boston area. Check him out at www.unfoldinglight.net. He wrote the following on July 23, 2012:
“When someone walks into a crowd and sprays death and suffering around, the news media will spend hours telling us about a deranged shooter, but only mention in passing someone who gives their life in shielding a loved one from the bullets. Why is this? It’s because we are transfixed by the nature of violence. We are fascinated, in both fear and wonder, with violence as a form of power. Held back by our belief in the apparent power of violence, we have yet to come to realize that love is an even greater power.
“Do not doubt the power that a person can have by spreading love through a crowd. It may not ever be known, and will certainly never make the news, but a person can exercise great power in spraying forgiveness and compassion around a room. One can make one’s home a nest of goodwill and loving kindness, from which one goes forth surreptitiously to cast their love upon unsuspecting and undeserving strangers. One can fearlessly display tenderness and forgiveness in public places, to the bewilderment of onlookers. Who could gauge how much suffering has been averted by the secret, unknowable prayers of people whose obsession is to spread love throughout the world? There are some who dedicate their lives to this work alone.
“In fact, I recommend it. Become as single-minded in compassion as others may be in fear, hate, violence or hard-heartedness. Grant love and blessing without regard either to people’s deserving or to your own fate. Love indiscriminately, and people will witness a truly world-changing power. It’s happened before. It can happen again. Even in your own town.
“May love surround you. May grace abound. May healing and new life flow through you all of your days. And may you be fearlessly, relentlessly gentle. Peace.”
erhaps it’s not as simple as he makes it sound, but who can argue that it’s a better philosophy than hatred and violence?